Name: Branden Kelliher
Height/Weight: 5’11’’, 175
How Acquired: Drafted in the 8th round in 2014
For the second year in a row, the Oakland A’s spent a top-10 round draft choice on a right-handed pitcher from the Pacific Northwest. Both pitchers are among the most promising right-handers in the A’s system currently.
Branden Kelliher, the A’s 2014 eighth-round pick, was one of the top-rated prospects in the state of Washington going into the draft. He signed with the A’s to an above-slot bonus of $450,000, turning down a scholarship offer to Oregon to go pro. Kelliher was a two-way player in high school, but he was known more for his work on the mound, where he reached 96 MPH with his fastball and helped lead his high school team to a league title his senior year.
After signing with the A’s, Kelliher was assigned to the A’s Arizona Rookie League team. He spent his entire pro debut in rookie ball, getting his feet wet in professional baseball. Like many young pitchers, Kelliher experienced plenty of ups and downs during his pro debut. He flashed premium stuff with an explosive fastball and a very promising curveball. However, he over-threw at times and his command suffered as a result. He finished the year with a 4.82 ERA and a 37:29 K:BB in 28 innings in the AZL.
"He has a fastball that can reach the mid-90s at 18 years old. He’s got a really good tight breaking ball and he has a really good feel for his change-up." - A's bullpen coach Scott Emerson
Kelliher, 18 at the time, was one of the youngest players invited to the A’s fall Instructional League. He made progress learning to pitch more within himself during that fall camp, although former A’s minor league pitching coordinator and current A’s bullpen coach Scott Emerson says that there is still a learning curve ahead for Kelliher.
"He has really good stuff," Emerson said. "He has a fastball that can reach the mid-90s at 18 years old. He’s got a really good tight breaking ball and he has a really good feel for his change-up. The only thing he does right now is that he wants to pitch for the radar gun. Most young pitchers want to do that.
“He just needs to slow himself down and realize that he is not a linebacker, he’s a pitcher. The number one thing for him is to execute the pitch and not worry about how hard it is. He’d be the first to tell you that if there was a radar gun in the ballpark, after every pitch, he’d probably look for it. Which most pitchers want to do anyway. Once he starts to get it into his mind, ‘hey, all I want to do is execute my pitch’ – because he’s got three outstanding pitches and if he just tells himself ‘I just need to execute the pitches I have already got and I don’t need to make them better than they are,’ he’s going to be very good.”
At 5’11’’, 175 pounds, Kelliher is an undersized right-hander, but he has a well-built lower half and gets good push off from his back leg. His velocity is already in the mid-90s, so even if he doesn’t grow any taller, his stuff should still play in the upper levels. His breaking ball is already a plus pitch for him and he has a promising change-up. Kelliher repeats his delivery well and he has a quick arm. Coaches have been impressed with his work ethic and his willingness to listen to instruction. Because of his height, some scouts see Kelliher as a future reliever and he has the stuff to work in the backend of games should he move into that role. However, with three solid pitches before the age of 20, Kelliher will receive plenty of opportunities to develop as a starter.
Kelliher turned 19 in December. He is likely to spend his first pro season split between extended spring training and short-season Vermont, although there is a chance he could jump to Low-A Beloit with a strong spring. Given his age and the number of college pitchers the A’s took in the 2014 draft, Kelliher is likely to be moved cautiously at the start of his pro career, but his performance will ultimately determine how quickly the A’s move him through the system.